Georgians lead protest at Taxpayer March on Washington

WASHINGTON — Led by Georgians, an angry crowd of mostly conservative protesters from across the country marched through Washington on Saturday and filled the lawn of the U.S. Capitol and the air above them with shouts and signs voicing their disappointment in the Obama administration and Democratic Party leaders.

“How many members of an angry mob do we have here?” Debbie Dooley of Atlanta shouted from a stage near the steps of the Capitol. Dooley helped start the Tea Party Patriots group that spawned anti-Obama rallies across the country and helped organize Saturday’s march and rally in Washington.

Dooley estimated the size of the crowd, which stretched for blocks and spilled over to the National Mall, at 1.5 million, but that was unlikely based on the size of crowds at previous events in the capital. The Associated Press estimated the crowd’s size in the tens of thousands.

From the same place where President Barack Obama’s supporters led cheers of “Yes We Can!” during his inauguration just eight months earlier, crowds led by Dooley shouted “No You Can’t!” as she rattled off Obama’s plans for health care reform and other programs.

Obama left Washington on Saturday morning for a scheduled trip to Minnesota, where he gave a speech on health care reform.

Many protesters arrived overnight in bus caravans, including about 20 busloads from Georgia.

Protesters were scheduled to begin marching from a park near the White House at 11.30 a.m., but swelling with anticipation, they left more than a hour early.

By noon, much of the Capitol grounds were filled with protesters bearing signs such as “Evil Hell Impeach Socialist Obama,” “The New Axis of Evil: Obama, Pelosi, Reid” and “What happened to the Constitution?”

Numerous protesters had signs and stickers supporting former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as well as U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, whose “You Lie!” outburst interrupted the president’s speech to Congress earlier in the week.

“I’m tired of the direction our country is going in,” said Linda Molinaro of Augusta, holding a sign that read “The Spirit of 1776 Returns.”

Called the Taxpayer March on Washington, the event was loosely organized by several groups, including the Tea Party Patriots; FreedomWorks, an activist and policy group headed by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey; and the 912 Project, a group run by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.

Protesters came from every state in the union, according to FreedomWorks organizers. Along with signs, many carried the flags of their states in a long procession that snaked down Pennsylvania Avenue on the way to the U.S. Capitol.

Given the role of Georgia organizers — the first of more than 100 “Tea Party” rallies across the nation was held in Atlanta in February — the state took a prominent role in the protest. Revolutionary War re-enactors from Savannah led the procession to the Capitol, followed by a group of protesters from throughout Georgia.

Ostensibly the rally was over taxes and surging government spending.

But criticism grew to include everything from Obama’s health care reform and carbon cap-and-trade plans to his appointment of advisory “czars.”

“I’m against virtually everything the government is doing right now,” said Bruce Mullininx, who with wife Caron traveled 10 hours on a bus from Atlanta.

Several Republican congressional leaders were scheduled to speak at the all-day rally, including U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Roswell and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Georgia state Rep. Tom Graves and Joel Aaron, a conservative radio talk show host from Atlanta, also were scheduled to speak.

“Today, thousands upon thousands of Americans came together from across the country to express their disgust with the outrageous policies emanating from Washington,” Price said in prepared remarks.

“The patriots who marched on Washington this weekend love their country,” he said. “They refuse to sit idly by as Washington advances skyrocketing deficits, taxpayer-funded bailouts, pork-barrel projects, burdensome taxes, unaccountable policy czars, and a government takeover of health care.”

But others who described themselves simply as concerned Americans, such as Scott Barbour, an orthopedic surgeon from Atlanta, also took the stage to blast Obama’s plans.

“Reform is important,” Barbour said, echoing the sentiment of many in the crowd, “but government is not the answer.”